Ottawa is a city that lives and breathes winter. We do the other seasons well, but we know how to winter like nowhere else. The streets come to life with lights and music. And, the people come together to help each other live well through the cold days and early sunsets. In Ottawa, we do more than endure the coldest months, we revel in them, and we do it so well that people come from all over the world to join us in embracing these frostiest of days.
These are 50 of our favourite things to do in Ottawa when the temperature drops.
1. Winter Camping in Gatineau Park
Have you ever imagined yourself spending a night snug in a yurt after a day spent cross-country skiing or snowshoeing the trails? If not, you should! The National Capital Commission maintains a series of charming yurts, four-season tents and cabins in Gatineau Park, equipped with beds, a wood stove and a cooking surface. Firewood is included, and snowshoes are for rent. A romantic date night like no other.
Ottawa has some of the best snowshoeing anywhere in the country. And, a short drive from downtown Ottawa, in Gatineau Park, you can spend hours wandering about like an arctic explorer. Snowshow day rentals are $28 for adults and $19 for children.
Every February, this celebration of all things winter takes over the National Capital Region to bring us all together at the time when we need it most. The International Ice Carving challenge draws sculptors from around the world to Confederation Park, leaving our streets full of all sorts of crystal characters. And the Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques-Cartier Park over in Gatineau, with its extensive array of snow slides and interactive activities, is always a big hit with children of all ages! Check out the Winterlude schedule for more details.
4. Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
Fifteen minutes from Ottawa, you can hit the slopes at Camp Fortune Ski. This 100-year-old institution features 24 runs, a terrain park, and two ski lodges to retreat to when you’ve had enough. Affordable packages and lessons are available for the whole family, should you need a refresher.
5. Cross-Country Skiing
Ottawa is a Cross-Country Skiing town. We have the Sir John A. MacDonald Trail, 16 km along the Ottawa River, traveling west from the Canadian War Museum. Another 150 km of trail surrounds us in the Greenbelt, perfectly maintained for skiing. And then, the 200 km of cross-country trails in Gatineau Park that draw people from all over the world to explore.
6. Ice Skating
We have the best public skating rink in the entire world on the Rideau Canal. Designated by Guinness World Records as the largest naturally frozen skating rink, these 7.8 kilometers of ice attract millions of people every year. Free and open 24/7 from December to late February, the Skateway is dotted with food and hot chocolate stands, so you can stop and catch your breath along the way. You can check the ice conditions here before heading out.
7. Ice Skating with the GG
While not quite as large as the Rideau Canal, the ice rink at Rideau Hall is worth a visit. Initially built in 1872, for the Earl of Dufferin, Canada’s third Governor-General, the ice is open to the public from early December to mid-March. Check the schedule for times.
8. Rideau Hall Tour
After a few hours skating on the grounds, why not warm up with a tour of Rideau Hall. This official home of every governor-general since confederation is open to the public and offers free historical guided tours. You’ll walk through the same halls as foreign dignitaries and learn a little bit more about Canada’s extensive historical journey.
Since 1978, Ottawa has been the home of BeaverTails. And, while BeaverTails are excellent at any time of year, there is something absolutely perfect about these fried dough pastries sprinkled with sugar and other goodies, in the wintertime. It’s quintessentially Ottawa. You can stop by the original shop in Byward Market or find them on the Rideau Canal as you’re skating by.
10. Ottawa Senators Hockey
If you’re in Ottawa during the NHL season, there is nothing quite like taking in a Sens game. Ottawa is a fiercely proud hockey town, but unlike Toronto or Montreal tickets are still affordable for fans.
11. Notre Dame Cathedral
There is something truly awe-inspiring about coming out of the cold into Notre Dame Cathedral. Construction on this national historic site began in 1942, and it remains the largest and oldest standing church in the nation’s Capital. It’s free to come in and wander about, and the parish regularly hosts craft sales, concerts, and other events that are worth checking the schedule for.
12. Christmas Lights Across Canada
For more than 30 years, Ottawa has lit up the streets to celebrate Christmas Lights Across Canada. Every evening at 4:30 pm until 2 am, from early December until early January, you can stroll through the magical glow of Christmas lights all over downtown Ottawa. You’ll want to stop at the Parliament Buildings for a multimedia light show that celebrates the unity of Canadians from coast to coast.
13. Parc Omega
Less than an hour from Ottawa is Parc Omega, a wilderness park dedicated to learning about animals native to the Canadian North. It’s a great spot to see Grey Wolves, Artic Fox, Beavers, and all the iconic creatures that thrive here in this country. The great thing about going in the winter is that these hardy Canadian creatures are most active in the cold.
14. Nordik Spa-Nature
If you need a day to relax and let your troubles float away, Nordik Spa-Nature is just the spot. This Scandinavian inspired spa, in the village of Chelsea, has all the self-care luxuries found at other resorts. However, they also have the nordic thermotherapy pools to wash away all your winter stress.
15. Galleries and Museums
The National Capital Region has some of the best Museums and Galleries in the world. And, what better time to go inside and explore the hundreds of brilliant exhibits than during an Ottawa Winter? These are just a handful of our favourites.
16. The Canadian Museum of Nature
Mammals, microbes, and dinosaurs, you’ll find them all at the Museum of Nature. It’s also a great spot to host a winter birthday party for a group of middle-schoolers when it’s too cold to be outside for long.
18. The National Gallery
One of the best art collections in the country, the National Gallery, spans many genres and hosts a wide array of guest artists and curators regularly. While not a terrible spot to foster a young person’s artistic imagination, the National Gallery is almost better alone, with time for quiet contemplation.
19. Ottawa Art Gallery
While the National Gallery gets lots of attention, the Ottawa Art Gallery is the place where Art, Design, and Community intersect. Not to mention a sizeable collection of Group of Seven pieces. It’s also great to know that the OAG lets you come in out of the cold and provides free childcare while you take it all in (Childcare schedule varies, see website for details).
20. Canada Science and Technology Museum
The perfect museum to take the kids for a day of learning and exploration out of the cold. The CSTM is built around interactive exhibits that keep children of all ages engaged.
21. The Canadian War Museum
This important collection is one of the most respected museums for the study and understanding of armed conflict in the world. The Museum’s galleries and public programming have been created to emphasize the human experience of war and work towards a world without it.
22. Agriculture and Food Museum
Canada has an incredible history of innovation in agriculture, and the Agriculture and Food Museum brings this to life in a way you would never think possible. More than just a place of artifacts, the AFM is a working farm in the heart of Ottawa. Children have the opportunity to interact with animals and learn about all the hard work that goes into the food we eat every day.
23. The National Arts Centre
Throughout November and December, the National Arts Centre launches its Holiday programming to dazzle and prepare you for the festivities to come. It’s always worth an annual visit.
24. The Royal Canadian Mint
Originally called Britain’s Royal Mint when it opened in 1908, the Royal Canadian Mint is still in the same iconic building over a hundred years later. Part history museum, part art gallery, the Mint is a great place to engage your children about money. Out of the cold, into some cold hard cash.
25. The Help Santa Toy Parade
For 50 years now, in mid-November, the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters’ Association has been organizing the Help Santa Toy Parade. These firefighters then receive toys along the parade route to give to less fortunate children in the Ottawa-Carleton area. It’s the perfect kick-off to the holidays and reminds us that the season is all about giving!
26. Trees Of Hope
These are the most beautifully decorated trees in the Capital. Every year from late November through early January, you can enjoy beautifully decorated trees throughout the public areas of the Fairmont Château Laurier and vote on your favourite. Thirty-four local companies sponsor and decorate a tree of hope, with all proceeds going to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Be sure to mark your calendar for the tree lighting and silent auction; both are free to attend.
27. Christmas Markets
Ottawa has some of the best Christmas markets west of Vienna. These beautiful, seasonal, extravaganzas make it possible to enjoy the festivities, meet local makers and get your shopping done all at the same time.
28. The Museum of Histories Christmas Market
At the end of November, the Museum of History hosts it’s annual Christmas Market for the community. With more than 80 exhibitors in the Grand Hall to display their delicious treats and unique handcrafted creations, it’s a great place to do a little holiday shopping. Christmas decorations, woodcraft, glass items, gourmet foods, artisanal spirits, jewelry, fashion accessories and more. This one is not to be missed.
29. The Ottawa Christmas Market at Lansdowne
From late November until early December, the European-style Christmas market in the leafy and historic Glebe neighbourhood lights up the streets. With food, crafts, and cider, this market is sure to charm the family.
30. The Ottawa Farmers’ Market – Christmas Market
This local gem brings all its produce from within 100 kilometers of the Ottawa area. A genuinely regional market, it runs every Saturday and Sunday in December. It’s one of the best ways to support our local economy and wrap up something truly unique and local for the people you love.
31. Originals Ottawa Christmas Craft Show
One of the great things about this city is the sheer number of artisans who live and work here! The Originals Craft Show, in the first half of December, is just the place to come out and support our local maker community. It’s also another great spot to pick up a couple of unique gifts for the season.
Getting together with a group of friends and wooden sled to barrel down a snowy hill has been a tradition for every Ottawa kid. If you’re a more recent Ottawa resident and find yourself looking for the best spots to jump in, we recommend:
- Bruce Pit (In Nepean, on Cedarview Rd. There are no lights on this hill)
- Conroy Pit (On Conroy Road, in the South end)
- Green’s Creek (A great spot, just west of Orleans on Bearbrook Rd.)
- Windsor Park (Between the Riverdale and Belmont entrances. Great for younger kids)
- Seneca Avenue (Near the Rideau Canal. Also great for younger kids)
- Vincent Massey Park (Right near Heron Road)
- Hog’s Back Park (In Nepean, close to Prince of Wales Drive)
33. Parliament Tours
Of course, Centre Block is closed for at least the next decade. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get out of the cold for a free tour of Parliament. The historic Senate building and the newly restored West Block are ready and waiting for guests. Get your tickets here.
34. Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush
Only about an hour from downtown Ottawa, Fulton’s is probably the most Canadian thing you can get up to in the Winter! From mid-February through April, you can be a part of the Maple Syrup Harvest. And, of course, at their Pancake House, give the fresh syrup a proper taste test.
35. Winter Photography
The National Capital Region has so many amazing historical buildings all over the area. When the snow hits, these classic architectural wonders take on a magical feel. Not to mention the stunning images made when you work the Ottawa River or Rideau Canal into the shot.
A few great spots to head with your camera:
- Rideau Falls
- Fairmont Château Laurier
- Gatineau Park
36. Self-Guided Craft Beer and Cider Tour
Ottawa has an incredible craft beer and cider culture. And, while it’s lovely to sit back on the patio during a long summer day enjoying a few favourites, in the wintertime, these local gems provide a great respite from the cold. If you’re looking to find a new choice-barley or build your own craft-crawl, have a look at this map of independent brewers in Ottawa and the surrounding area.
37. Dining At ByWard Market Square
Open Seven Days a Week, the ByWard Market Square is a part of the City’s history dating back to 1848. In the Winter, this indoor market is a great spot to grab a bite, shop for gifts, and be social when the mercury drops.
38. The Meridian Theatre at Centrepointe
A theatre space near Algonquin College that hosts local orchestras and theatre groups. They have an incredible Winter line-up of shows that won’t break the bank. Find tickets here.
39. Level One / Loft Board Game Lounge
Two levels with over 1000 board games, food, drinks, and fun! For a $6 cover, you have access to the whole pile. A popular attraction, be sure to get in early as it tends to line up in the evening. The helpful staff is known to be unstumpable on the finer details of board game rules!
40. Zoe’s – Chateau Laurier
Sometimes it’s better just to look out and admire the Winter from a picturesque window in a delightful lounge with a drink. Zoe’s is just that sort of place. Recently redone, this classy watering hole is one of Ottawa’s most popular spots.
41. Nightmare Before Christmas, or after
In need of a good holiday haunting? This incredible, Christmas themed, ghost tour through ByWard Market takes place throughout December. Of course, there are several other Winter Ghost tours to give you your dose of holiday fright.
42. TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
Jazz never takes time off. Every year around the end of January, the beginning of February, the theatres and venues of Ottawa come to life with the sounds of the Winter Jazz Festival.
43. Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival
This event is precisely what you think it is, a dragon boat race on ice. Early in February, teams from all over the world descend on Ottawa with the skate bottomed boats to compete for the title on Dows Lake.
44. Canadian Ski Marathon
The world’s longest cross-country ski event, from Lachute, Québec to Gatineau Park, covering 160 km of trails. Every year, in early February, about 2,500 skiers try their luck at this endurance glide across the snow. You can ski as little as 12 km or push yourself the whole 160 km.
45. Magic of Lights
From the end of November until the beginning of January, from 5 pm to 10 pm nightly, Magic of Lights takes over. A sparkling two-kilometre drive-through holiday light show that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own car. Located at Wesley Clover Parks, 411 Corkstown Rd.
46. Gatineau Loppet
Canada’s largest cross-country ski event in Gatineau Park, happening mid-February. It brings together more than 3000 skiers, both experts, and amateurs, from more than 20 different countries. Races range from two kilometers to fifty-one, with events for every level of skier.
47. Gatineau Playground Festival
After Christmas, when the kids have been cooped up with energy to burn, the Playground Festival is the perfect spot to burn them out. For four days, you can let them loose in 67,000 square feet of gaming, sports, trampolines and activities. It’s just the break you’ve been waiting for.
48. Hogman-eh! New Years Event
Each year in Ottawa, you can bring in the New Year like a Scot! This authentic Scottish celebration is open to anyone who wants to enjoy Scottish music, food, and men in kilts. And, of course, like any good Scottish New Year party, midnight is greeted with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne and fireworks!
49. Le Moulin de Provence, for freshly-baked French pastries, artisan bread, coffee, and macaroons.
It’s the place, Barack Obama popped out to for a cookie on his first visit to the nation’s Capital in 2009. Ever since then, they’ve been serving the Obama Cookie. And, while this is an excellent spot for baked goods at any time of year, their cookies are a perfect excuse to pop in out of the cold.
It’s not skiing, or snowboarding, or even tobogganing. Snowtubing is the leisurely person’s way to enjoy a snow-covered mountain to its fullest. A short drive into Quebec and you find the best spot to tube your way down a hill, Sommet Edelweiss. And, for $24 for a day pass, you may quickly become a regular.